So two weeks passed and I have been remiss in updating the narrative of my internship (obviously disappointing the many V/E digital literature enthusiasts just glued to their computer screens waiting for the next post 🙂 But I think that the reason that I have been slightly tardy in my posts is the same reason that most of the aspiring winemakers and vineyard managers we work and study with are NOT glued to there computer screens (indulge me while I wax a wee bit romantic). Throughout the first week or so of my internship, I spent the majority of my on-the-job time mentally weighing the pro’s and con’s of the work I was doing and my prospective future in the business. My mental dialogue was (literally) a constant stream of “well I love doing X but Y is too hard and I don’t think I could make a lot of money doing Z but it is kind of fun. Oh no, did I choose the wrong internship or even major…” etc. I’m not sure if anyone else who reads the blog has ever felt like this but it is disconcerting and frustrating to say the least. I found myself unable to enjoy the work I was doing because I was constantly asking myself if I was enjoying it. But in the past week, working in the winery has become a sort of zen experience. I think that a combination of becoming comfortable with my surroundings, my colleagues (Zach, the assistant winemaker, and I can now effectively rack, wash, sanitize, steam and fill upwards of 20 barrels alone in a matter of a few hours, but more on that later) and having a consistent daily rhythm of hard work has cleared my head and made work a daily pleasure. My uncle said he calls it “flowing.” When you are at a job or a hobby and suddenly realize that three hours have passed and you didn’t even realize it; that’s flowing. When your job becomes an essential motion in your day that gives you a sense of implicit accomplishment unconscious, you are “flowing.” And it is this flow that makes you know that you are in the right place (professionally and mentally). Well I would like to think that the last few weeks have “flowed” well, because I go to bed each night anxious to wake up the next morning and find that there is no better feeling than looking at a clean and orderly winery at the end of the day, knowing that all wine is in its place and cared for.
OR, the case may be that my brain is simply numb from two straight weeks of barrel racking in the hot sun! Joey Tensley started his career in the Los Olivos wine industry as the winemaker for the local Carina Cellars label. After crafting his unique style and technique he later formed his namesake label, working out of the same winemaking facilities as Carina Cellars. Because the owner of Carina is an international man of business (involved somehow in solar panel engineering around the world) Joey has remained in-charge of all winemaker and vineyard activities. This means that Zach and the giddy freshman intern (yours truly) get the lucky job of racking all the wine not only for the Tensley label, but Carina Cellars and some three or so other small “novelty” labels for which Joey is the winemaker (this notion of novelty wine is my take on a handful of wine shops, restaurants and celebrities who want a wine label all there own but have neither the experience nor interest to be involved in the actual winemaking at all! This is where Joey and crew step in, offering an individually crafted and labeled wine for a nominal fee) Thus, for the past two weeks Zach and I have racked somewhere between 20-30 barrels of local Syrah and Zinfandel daily from various local labels under the Tensley Winemaking empire. As this is the first time that I have worked in a winery, I am not entirely sure how the process differs in different areas, but here is the Tensley magic technique. Using a forklift, twenty-some barrels are taken out to a crush pad where they are all lined up in the order in which they were pressed. Each barrel is racked via a small motorized pump, off its lees into a steel tank which holds somewhere around 30 barrels of wine. Each barrel is then flipped over and the lees are drained into a bucket (this technique takes practice to flip the barrel fast enough to not spill the wine all over the ground) and the lees are then dumped into a separate “lees” barrel for further settling. The barrels are then hosed out on the interior and power washed on their exterior. Then each barrel gets “steamed’ for about 5 minutes by spraying the power washer directly into the interior. The barrels then sit and steam for a few minutes and are then flipped once more to drain the dirty water from the inside. Another barrel rinsing and then the barrels are allowed to dry. Finally, the wine is pumped from the tanks back into the impeccably clean barrels, capped with bungs that have been thoroughly sanitized, and barrels are re-stacked and returned to their neat homes in the winery. Now, while Zach and I have become INCREDIBLY efficient at racking and cleaning to a booming soundtrack of Dubstep and Beachboys music that pound out of a set of laptop speakers, I would have to say that there are 3 take-home lessons/skills I have gained in my racking experience.
1. Always, Always, Always watch as you are draining and filling a barrel to ensure that you do not allow too much air into your pumping line (oxidizing the wine) and do not overflow your barrel (wasting wine).
2. The combination of continuously dragging, flipping turning and yanking oak barrels covered in red wine will stain the CRAP out of your hands (I’m beginning to think its going to turn into an irreversible winemakers tattoo!)
3. There absolutely needs to be a competitive league for tossing bungs into buckets of sanitizing water because I’m convinced that Zach and I can nail a bung into a 1.5 foot diameter plastic bucket from the three-point-line minimum!
I hope everyone is having a fantastic and relaxing summer. I hope that you learn a lot, and find a sense of peace with whatever you are doing as I have started to. Lots more to come as soon as we complete the tour de racking!
Best from CA